A federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s attempts to speed up deportations for people with bogus asylum claims, ruling Wednesday that the president and his team had gone beyond what Congress intended.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan — who a day earlier had excoriated former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — ordered the government to allow migrants with iffy claims to be given a full chance to make their case for asylum.
And he ordered the U.S. to un-deport plaintiffs in the case who already had been ousted under the new policy, saying they deserve to be brought back and allowed to claim asylum.
“Because it is the will of Congress — not the whims of the executive — that determines the standard for expedited removal, the court finds that those policies are unlawful,” Judge Sullivan wrote.
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His decision overturns a move by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had tried to block asylum claims of migrants who said they faced gang violence or domestic abuse back home.
Mr. Sessions had argued that while traumatic, those reasons strayed far from the political or religious persecution by governments that traditionally made someone eligible for asylum.
The Trump administration has said people bringing those claims could be quickly refused, and put into speedy deportation.
Judge Sullivan rejected that, saying Congress intended for people to be able to easily demand asylum based on a “particular social group.”
“The attorney general’s direction to deny most domestic violence or gang violence claims at the credible fear determination stage is fundamentally inconsistent with the threshold screening standard that Congress established,” he wrote.
The White House lashed out late Wednesday, saying Judge Sullivan’s decision will overwhelm the system and encourage still more illegal immigration.
“Today’s ruling is only the latest example of judicial activism that encourages migrants to take dangerous risks; empowers criminal organizations that spread turmoil in our hemisphere; and undermines the laws, borders, Constitution, and sovereignty of the United States,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
The asylum system has become the soft underbelly of the country’s border control, with migrants having figured out how to say a few key phrases to get on the asylum track.
Few will actually qualify, but that is rarely the point. Once on the track, they are admitted and usually released into the U.S., where they disappear into the shadows. Often they don’t bother following through on claiming asylum, content to live in the U.S. illegally.
That chance has fueled a surge in asylum claims, which have risen from an average of fewer than 500 a month a decade ago to nearly 10,000 a month now.
The bar for immigrants stopped at the border who want to claim asylum is set very low. They need to show a fraction of a chance — not even 1-in-10 — that they could face persecution back home because of their situation.
Judge Sullivan said Congress intended for that to be a low threshold, and said the Trump administration can’t unilaterally raise the bar.
The immigrant-rights advocates who fought the case on behalf of asylum-seekers said they were “thrilled” with the victory.
“Judge Sullivan’s decision ensures that our asylum system remains open to refugees at our border, including those fleeing domestic violence and gang violence,” said Eunice Lee, at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.
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